Garstang and Ghana - Why do their farmers get a raw deal?
On Wednesday March 13th, 2002 a public enquiry entitled 'Garstang and Ghana - Why do their farmers get a raw deal?' was held at Myerscough College, Bilsborrow. A citizen's Jury, comprised of Agricultural students from the college, listened to a series of testimonies before giving their verdict in answer to the question posed. The live testimonies given have been summarised below.
Testimony 1 - Philip Ormerod (local dairy farmer)
Farmers in the UK are under competitive pressure due to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) opening up markets to imported products. Other countries can produce cheaper food because they have lower fixed costs (wages, fertilisers, machinery etc). The legislation in the UK prevents UK farmers from being able to compete. What can we do? We have no control over the market price. We could attempt to increase efficiency of production but are unable to increase this any further as we are not on a level playing field. All we can do is to try to show the consumer that UK produce is of a better quality.
Testimony 2 - John Burrow (retired local farmer)
Farms are getting bigger and goods are cheaper abroad. We are driven out of farming by the "powers that be" i.e. Government, supermarkets, processors, multinationals, and the media. These 'powers' control the economics that is destroying the small farmer.
Testimony 3 - Alex Yeboah-Afari (personnel manager of VREL banana plantation in Ghana)
The VREL plantation was the first banana plantation in Ghana and has now been in existence for 14 years. The land around a large lake was found to be highly suitable for growing bananas and of course there was a plentiful water supply. Because Ghana was not a traditional banana growing area we did not receive a quota from the Lome agreement for their bananas. The buyers often reduced the price given for the bananas because they were said to be yellow on arrival at port (too early for ripening). Also orders could be cancelled after the bananas had been picked forcing the plantation to sell to the home market at considerable loss. These factors meant that in 1996 the plantation was in danger of forced closure. Then Solidaridad / Max Havelar introduced fair trade to the plantation to make VREL the only fair trade banana plantation in the whole of Africa. From this point on they received a guaranteed income so could invest in things like irrigation equipment and protective clothing for the workers. The Fairtrade premium given also meant that health clinics and toilets could be built considerably improving conditions for the workers and their families on the plantation.
Testimony 4 - James Lamm (local farmer)
Due to the high costs of milking cows and dairy quotas I decided to move away from dairy farming into beef and sheep and was successful until the BSE crisis. Despite being forced to hold more and more stock I managed to hold on thinking things would improve the following year. "Always waiting for a better year". Finally I decided to sell direct to the consumer. My charges were based on the cost of production plus an acceptable profit margin. The 'big boys' put persistent pressure on us until we can no longer survive.
Testimony 5 - Sarah Garden (Campaigns Coordinator for the Fairtrade Foundation)
There are two reasons why farmers across the world receive a raw deal.
The consumer likes to buy cheap, so supermarkets force the price down so they can do so. We need to educate the consumer to expose the detrimental consequences of buying cheap food i.e. social, environmental and the hidden external costs like the problem of asylum seekers. Fair trade has shown that the consumer will then be willing to pay a fair price for the food. This in turn will lead to an increase in quality of the product and sustainable development.
Farmers are isolated. They have lost control over the price paid for their produce. They need to get this control back through fair trade and selling direct to the consumer. If we restore the direct farmer / consumer link the consumer can tell the farmer what it is they want e.g. if the packaging is not desirable it can be changed or in the case of bananas if the consumer wants uniform yellow blemish free bananas the farmer can supply it, but at present it is the 'middle man' that states what they think the consumer wants. The Fairtrade criteria dictate that the Fairtrade Mark is only for small farmers in developing countries. It is a shame there is no such mark for UK farmers.
Testimony 6 - Peter Bell (local dairy and beef farmer)
We don't get a fair price. Income dropped by 70% in real terms since 1975 so that we now get less than the national minimum wage. Why? Three reasons:
We didn't join the Euro so our exports cost more and we cannot compete with cheaper imports.
Consumer trends have changed to more processed foods. This takes the consumer one step away from the local farmer.
Power of the supermarkets to force the prices down.
Cooperatives could take some costs out and rationalise transport.
Government help! The government is out of touch with the farmer.
Consumer power. The consumer successfully boycotted tuna that harmed dolphins until eventually tuna became dolphin friendly. "I want fair trade to make me the next dolphin".
Testimony 7 - Chris Emerson (Farmers World Network)
Farming is a global industry. Martin Luther King said "By the time we finish breakfast we have used food from around the world" (Tea, coffee, orange juice, nuts (in cereal), flour (in bread), bananas, raisins, sugar etc.) But we now live in a society removed from the farmer so the consumer does not know where the food comes from.
Are farmers colleagues or competitors? Real competition is not between farmers in the UK and developing countries. Real competition is not in getting food on plates but for the biggest profits from public spending on food. Farmers' competitors in this are the major multiple retailers who dominate the retail sector. Farmers are the biggest part, but the smallest players. As consumers we support the powerful multinationals so it is up to us to change things.
Farming is a very volatile industry affected by climate, disease, politics, "food-trends" and economics. The farmers are the major risk takers in the whole food industry but it is the retailer that becomes rich. Virtually no farmer is large enough to exert control over the market. Farmers nearly always end up with the smallest share of the money we spend on food e.g. for every £1 spent on bananas, 40p goes to the retailer, 20p to the importer / wholesaler, 10p shipping costs, 5p export costs, 15p warehousing and packaging and 10p to the picker / grower (Christian Aid). The proportions are probably similar for meat or milk in the UK.
Fairtrade is a solution. The need for fair trade is clearly illustrated by the cocoa sector: 38% of the UK's cocoa is imported from Ghana, where 2 million people are employed in the industry. The average monthly income of smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana is less than £20. From being worth US $1,800 per tonne in 1997, cocoa was worth under US $1,000 per tonne in 2001, but Fairtrade growers were being paid $1,750 a tonne (Fairtrade Foundation). There is a difference between farmers in the UK and those in developing countries. In the UK if a farmers goes bust he can turn to the state benefit system. In developing countries there is nothing; not even health care for his family or education for his children.
Southern Communities are vulnerable because they rely on one or two commodities for export. So the community relies on the sale of these products for all their health and education. For the years 1980 / 1997 Chad relied 85% / 100% on Cotton and meat, Sudan 99% / 97% on Cotton, livestock, and sesame seed, Burundi 96% / 96% on Coffee and tea, Somalia 95% on Livestock, fish and bananas, Benin 97% / 95% on Cotton, and oil, Gambia 93% on Nuts, fish, cotton and palm, Malawi 94% / 93% on tobacco, tea and sugar (UNCTAD, 2001).
Farmers in the UK face challenges too; the industry has been ravaged by disease and crisis, the sector has lost public confidence and support, thousands have left the industry and farm profits are down. Although comparatively large, UK farmers are still small players in the food industry. Farmers in developing countries need a fair price for their produce if they are to survive. Fairtrade will give them this. Farmers in the UK need to survive too, they need a fair price for their produce too. They do not have the Fairtrade logo and if they feel they are getting an unfair price from the supermarkets they are likely to try alternative strategies including: farmers' markets, box schemes, on farm processing, etc Both Southern and UK farmers need the support of consumers.
As well as the live testimonies above four testimonies were read out on behalf of representatives that were unable to attend the event. These are listed below. Click on the name to read a full copy of the testimony.
Finally a testimony was received from Kwadaso Agricultural College in Ghana. Unfortunately this was received too late to be used at the event. A copy has, however been included in this report.
Overall farmers in developed and developing countries are at the bottom of the food chain. As primary producers they are last to be considered in terms of financial return. They have no control over price - 'Always waiting for a better year' (James Lamm).
Globally farmers have lost direct link with consumers, from testimonies received it is clear that farmers in the UK and Ghana feel undervalued in society. The social implications of this are far-reaching.
The Nestle statement whilst suggesting interest in supporting cocoa production, we believe that profits and sustaining a high shareholders price is far more over-riding and is their primary concern.
The Co-op were first traders to sell fair trade products, however their statement was little more than a cheap shot at advertising. Both Co-op and Nestle give a positive image but we feel more can be done by them to support and promote fair trade.
The Co-op should continue to promote fair trade and be used as a model for other supermarkets.
We recommend moving towards re-uniting the primary producer with the consumer.
Central government should take the lead by providing financial incentives to farmers who wish to become involved in co-ops or in becoming producer retailers.
Similarly consumers should be provided with incentives to buy fair trade products.
Education is a major factor in this issue.
Food buying habits need to change, this should be done through education in giving a better understanding of how our food is produced.
In conclusion farmers all over the world require a fair deal for a fair days work.
The Garstang Fairtrade campaign continues to make links between farmers in developing countries and those in the UK also struggling to get a fair price for their produce.
In August 2004 the Garstang Fairtrade Steering Committee organised an exchange visit between Garstang and its twin town New Koforidua. The exchange involved a local dairy farmer and a cocoa farmer from New Koforidua in Ghana.
On a recent visit to Garstang Nuruddin Boateng, from the Ghanaian Fairtrade cocoa farming cooperative Kuapa Kokoo, said: "Farmers produce to make people live. Why then do we deny their basic rights to survive?"
We welcome comments on the UK / Ghana farmers' link issue or any of the above testimonies from anyone, especially farmers in the UK.